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On Iraq, Where Are The Democrats?
September 15, 2002 9:59 PM   Subscribe

On Iraq, Where Are The Democrats? "Oh, the party's leaders speak: They appear on talk shows; they write op-eds; they convene congressional hearings. But most of what they say is best understood as highly articulate evasiveness. They have devised a series of formulations designed to make the party appear to be offering a clear response to the president's proposed war, when it is actually doing the opposite.". But now some are willing to outright question the timing of our newfound desire to eliminate Hussein: "It's hard not to notice that the sudden urgency of war with Iraq has coincided precisely with the emergence of the corporate scandal story, with the flip in the congressional [poll] numbers and with the decline in the Republicans' prospects for retaking the Senate majority"
posted by owillis (18 comments total)

 
Good story. I'd been thinking the same thing, originally I'm from England where the opposition party is a powerful player getting as much coverage on issues as the ruling party. Here it seems that all we get is White House this and White House that coverage, I don't even know who the leader of the Democrats is, I don't even know if they have a leader... and while I'm amazed at my own ignorance it is truly the fault of the Democrats and the media (or their use there of) that I'm not aware of their position..

Haven't read that second link yet, just about to.
posted by zeoslap at 11:09 PM on September 15, 2002


I think part of the problem is the way the losing presidential candidate just fades away, back in Blighty you don't just disappear into obscurity if you lose, you bitch and whine about the other guy for four years before giving it another shot.
posted by zeoslap at 11:14 PM on September 15, 2002


House Republicans have asked for a vote on Iraq before the fall elections. Daschle has said basically "No." If so many American's are opposed war in Iraq, why do the Democrats try to block this. Wouldn't you like to know where your representation stands on this issue. I am sure those of you who are Anti-War here at MeFi would like to know who to not vote for.

Or could it be that while many Democrats currently accuse the administration of having right to go to war, they will quickly fall inline after the fall elections, and don't want to record a vote of "no" on war and then have to do a 180º?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:25 PM on September 15, 2002


I don't even know if they have a leader... and while I'm amazed at my own ignorance it is truly the fault of the Democrats and the media (or their use there of) that I'm not aware of their position..

Part of it is 9/11, and part of it is that Americans only recognize and care about the guy in the White House. The Democrats have a great leader in Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority leader; his sincere and pleasant persona makes it hard for the Republicans to attack. (It's much easier to make a Trent Lott out to be the bad guy.)

I do believe, though, that if the Democrats were nastier and flashier, they'd get more media time.

House Republicans have asked for a vote on Iraq before the fall elections. Daschle has said basically "No." If so many American's are opposed war in Iraq, why do the Democrats try to block this.

Democrats contol the Senate, not the House. Leaders often block votes they don't want to see come to the floor to save their party's members from having to face a vote on it. Nothing new here. Why should Dashcle forth such a loaded vote anyway? You and I both know it would be skewed as, "you're helping the terrorists!" The Democrats want to ensure the nation is taking the prudent course of action; remember that these members of Congerss haven't yet seen military/gov't evidence that we SHOULD invade.

And what does your point about most Americans opposing the invasion of Iraq have to do with the blocked vote? Do you really think that a bunch of millionaires (members of congress, of both parties) really represent American sentiment?
posted by jennak at 11:47 PM on September 15, 2002


The Democrats have a great leader in Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority leader
I wish this were true, but it isn't. Daschle has his flashes, but usually falls in line after a single wap on the nose (he shut up after all the BS "obstructionist" talk). Gephardt used to be able to play the loudmouth-Gingrich role, but I think his presidential aspirations have him playing statesman (this goes for Lieberman and John Edwards as well). They have unlearned all the lessons Clinton taught about keeping the Republicans in a box, and are back to re-action versus action.

There's a vacuum at the top - and I think Clinton and Gore realize this and its why they've been making little waves.
posted by owillis at 12:01 AM on September 16, 2002


Democrats contol [sic] the Senate, not the House

I know this, the GOP is looking for a vote in both bodies.

And what does your point about most Americans opposing the invasion of Iraq have to do with the blocked vote?

Well I tell you this much; A vote of "yes" or "no" would make a difference in the upcoming election.

Leaders often block votes they don't want to see come to the floor to save their party's members from having to face a vote on it.
Just because some thing is the norm, it doesn't make it the correct action. You don't care where your elected officials stand? For all the whooping and hollering the left does about how war is wrong, they don't seem to care if their members in the House and Senate are accountable.

A strong vote of "No" would sent quite a message, wouldn't you say?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:02 AM on September 16, 2002


First of, you could just as easily paint the “Democrats are don’t want to vote now because the elections are coming and the public supports war” argument as “Republicans want to take advantage of the first attack on our homeland since Pearl Harbor by bringing a war vote, any war vote, to Congress right before an election.” The truth is < cheap debating trick>; somewhere in the middle < /cheap debating trick>;.

"It's hard not to notice that the sudden urgency of war with Iraq has coincided precisely with the emergence of the corporate scandal story, with the flip in the congressional [poll] numbers and with the decline in the Republicans' prospects for retaking the Senate majority"

This in particular is totally bunk. Both parties are always agressively courting voters. They don't continually try to declare war. Half the time, we democrats are claiming that Bush & Co. were planning to avenge his father's loss ever since the campaign; it can't also be a sneaky response to recent political fallout.
posted by gsteff at 12:17 AM on September 16, 2002


Curse the MeFi block demon.
posted by gsteff at 12:20 AM on September 16, 2002


I've been disappointed in the Democratic leadership for a while over this issue, and I'm not alone. If you look at the forums at Democratic Underground, you'll see the discontent is common, at least in the online crowd. Even John Kerry, who at least is willing to question Bush's policy, hasn't come out and said he opposes an invasion.
posted by norm29 at 8:51 AM on September 16, 2002


I don't even know who the leader of the Democrats is, I don't even know if they have a leader...

They don't, in the sense that you probably mean. The US doesn't have national parties in the sense that the UK does. There isn't anyone in either party who is the sort-of-undisputed leader of the party with some sort of authority to make decisions for the party.

People may talk about Daschle as if he were a party leader, but he's just the most prominent Democrat. He has few enough leadership powers in the Senate (Senate rules MOL forbid strong leadership) and exactly none outside of it.

Even Dubya, who is certainly the "Republican leader," has no particular authority over anyone outside the executive branch, or over party platforms, or anything like that. Even if House and Senate were under Republican control, you'd still likely see Dubya, Hastert, and Lott (or whoever) disagreeing and negotiating as independent actors.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:18 AM on September 16, 2002


Even John Kerry, who at least is willing to question Bush's policy, hasn't come out and said he opposes an invasion.

That's because Kerry is a calculated politician who is already hiring for his 2004 presidential run. (Sorry...despite his liberalism, I can't stand him.)

Owillis, you're right in that the Dems just aren't aggressive enough. There needs to be the sweet Democrat (Daschle), the feisty Democrat (formerly Gephardt, now calling for resumes) to knock out the Republicans with a one-two punch.

Sometimes I wish we had an evil, vindictive person to bank roll a dirty politics investigation into each and every Republican. Whoops. Did I say that aloud?
posted by jennak at 9:32 AM on September 16, 2002


The sad fact seems to be that Democrats (and I say this as one myself, for lack of better alternatives) are pussies, or at least far behind the GOP, in terms of down-and-dirty bare-knuckle politics.

Can you imagine the sh*tstorm if a Dem president had a DUI, coke-snorting past?

Not that it's always a good thing, granted - personal life should stay personal, etc - but c'mon guys. Raise some hell!

At the moment, I think raising a voice of opposition still carries too much of a taint of post-9/11, with-us-or-against-us anti-patriotism, true or not. They sure spun that one well.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:34 AM on September 16, 2002


The problem is, the Democrats have had a massive reversal of position on this. Well, since 1998, when they had one of their own in the White House....

Tom Daschle: ""Look, we have exhausted virtually all our diplomatic effort to get the Iraqis to comply with their own agreements and with international law. Given that, what other option is there but to force them to do so? That's what they're saying. This is the key question. And the answer is we don't have another option. We have got to force them to comply militarily." "
posted by dwivian at 9:38 AM on September 16, 2002


"Forward engagement," the document explained, "means addressing problems early in their development before they become crises, addressing them as close to the source of the problem as possible, and having the forces and the resources to deal with these threats as soon after their emergence as possible."

Seems to me that prioritizing alternative fuels, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and radiation detector installation are all meeting with way too much resistance.

Alas, this time a political culture rooted in flag-waving electioneering seems certain to ensure that we don't engage in the nimble, survival-oriented adaptive behaviors.
posted by sheauga at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2002


As was stated above, its important to realize the fundemental differences that divide the American Republican System from the governing systems of most of the rest of the industrialized democracies. The America system makes no provision for a unified opposition, probably because when the Constitution was written it was created in the hope that America would not produce factional political parties.

The loser of a Presidential election is a solitary loser with no public role. The loser of an election in a parlimentary democracy is the head of a powerful block in parliament, and knows that at any moment a new election may be called. This forces the opposition to organize itself into a "shadow government" that mimics the major roles of the party that holds the executive office. In the US, there is no role for a shadow government. The closest we would have is figures of the opposite party (to the executive) who are powerful in the Congress, but their job is very different from that of the Executive, and thus does not present a real opposition.
posted by pjgulliver at 10:53 AM on September 16, 2002


PJ basically explained it for our European friends. Additionally, it's probably no accident that our government is divided into three independent branches, which frequently ratchet back and forth into cooperation and opposition -- and the voters seem to prefer opposition, even if it means the dreaded "gridlock". This forces the party not holding the White House into a difficult obstructionist position.

Much as some MeFi'ers might like to imagine, the Democrats never were going to wave the flag of opposition on Iraq. The eventual vote will be overwhelmingingly in favor of giving the President a free rein, though I also believe it will be nowhere near as unanimous as the 1-objection vote last September. Perhaps as many as 10% of either house could vote against -- including some Republicans. The challenge for them became not leading the debate into an area where they would be perceived as challenging the President's authority (which is constitutionally much stronger than in a parliamentary system, particularly on military issues: the President is the commander-in-chief). But the GOP, either accidentally (I can certainly imagine it) or through a deliberate, hard to pull off rope-a-dope strategy, managed to outfox the Dems domestically and heel-biters internationally with Bush's UN speech, which they must have known going in was guaranteed almost unanimous support in the Security Council. The Dems didn't get a chance to put their domestic-issues platform before the public, except perhaps in states with late primaries. A national-issues Democratic campaign wasn't much in the cards; usually out-year elections focus on local issues anyway. The trend is for a surge in support, in these mid-term elections, for the party out of the White House (typically about 9 House seats); this year that effect may be minimized because Bush had minimal coat-tail effect, meaning fewer GOP candidates for re-election in weak districts. Still, it's also common for the out-party to lose seats maybe 1/3 of the time. (I have Excel spreadsheets if anyone wants the numbers.)

But the Democrats have a long, long history of lacking strong leadership. The quote by Will Rogers over half a century ago remains quite true: I belong to no organized political party. I am a Democrat. Clinton was a masterful politician (leaving aside his other failings), and one could hope that others might have learned from him -- but his very prominence meant others had trouble advancing, and now his absence means a kind of vacuum. Daschle was a great lieutenant but (like Hastert, really) a lousy trench-stormer. The other candidates are already embroiled in positioning for the '04 presidential election, and unfortunately most of them have major faults of one kind or another. I don't know -- I think a strong populist message works with a lot of swing voters, but it does need a strong opponent, and they don't want to be opposing Bush personally at this point (nor is he really targeting any of these constituencies in ways that will resonate).

It's a sticky wicket, and a replay of the seven-dwarfs era. I dunno how the Dems can get out of it.
posted by dhartung at 4:16 PM on September 16, 2002


...the Democrats never were going to wave the flag of opposition on Iraq.

Why That Sucks: supposedly around 65% of Americans support invading Iraq if America has international support from its traditional allies. That number goes down as soon as the "allies" are presumed absent, which means that there is a sizable constituency out there that is opposed to the Bush "doctrine" of pre-emption. That constituency is currently unrepresented (despite having voted, in many cases, for successful candidates) because regrettably, as gottabefunky says, the Democrats are pussies.
posted by Raya at 8:21 PM on September 16, 2002


And this:"Even the suggestion that the timing of something so serious could be done for political reasons is reprehensible," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said: Nice try, Ari, but your buddy Andrew Card already let the cat out of the bag there; that's exactly the game you guys are playing!
posted by Raya at 8:31 PM on September 16, 2002


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